Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

The Fear of the Unknown

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As an orthopedic surgeon I treat pain. Actually I try to diagnosis and treat the many causes of musculoskeletal pain. But every person who comes to see me is there because something hurts.

A common cause of the pain I treat is osteoarthritis of the knee. With time, with injuries, with abuse, joints wear out. It is part of life.

For most of the history of the world, if you survived disease and predators and famine and lived long enough to get arthritis, there was no treatment. Once the pain became disabling, you were disabled. And I don’t mean “it is hard to walk from the parking lot to the mall” disabled. Or “I had to cut back from 18 holes of golf to 9” disabled.

You were “sit at home and never walk again” disabled. Nobody could do anything to help you.

Today we have options. The quickest and simplest treatment I have for knee arthritis is a cortisone injection.

I offer it to every patient with knee arthritis. And almost always the first question I am asked is:

Will the shot hurt?

The Unknown

I understand the question and I am happy to answer it, but it seems out of place. The same person who tells me how disabling their knee pain is, then hesitates at a simple treatment because their is the possibility that the treatment will induce a new, different type of pain.

We have ways of trying to minimize the pain of the injection. Most people tell me that it wasn’t as bad as they thought.

But the fear of the pain of the injection continues to surprise me. For some the fear is intense enough that they refuse it.

Why would they rather keep the pain they have rather than experience the pain of the injection? What is it about the injection that produces so much fear?

The only answer I have come up with is the fear of the unknown.

More Questions

The knee pain from the arthritis is familiar. They know what it feels like. They know that if they rest, the pain will subside some. They know that if they take ibuprofen or ice their knee it can take the edge off. But the pain associated with the needle and the injection is new.

With new things comes unknown possibilities. Questions with unknown answers are asked.

  • How bad will it hurt?
  • Will it be harder than I thought?
  • Will I regret it?

We will try anything to eliminate as much as the unknown as possible. We ask our friends whose stories may or may not be accurate. We search the internet looking for someone with answers.

We try to know the unknown. We try to get as much information as possible. But will the answers we find actually help the unknown to become familiar?

Sometimes we are still too scared to try something new. Instead we choose to keep things the way they are even if it means pain.

How Do You Really Find Out for Sure?

You give it a try. You find our for yourself. You stop asking questions and do it.

Give it a shot and see what happens. (Pun intended)

photo by Kevin Conor Keller (creative commons license)

photo by Kevin Conor Keller (creative commons license)

It is the same with all unknown things. The only way we will really have our questions answered is to try it. See what happens. Experiment a little.

The same goes with life and our stories. Too often we refuse to live a better story and try new things because we are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of what could possibly happen.

Will it hurt? Maybe.

Will it be harder than I thought? Probably not. But even if it is hard, it could be worth it.

Will I regret trying this new thing?

What you are likely to regret is not trying at all.

About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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2 Replies

  1. DanKnight

    There was something “unsettling” about this post; something that I didn’t “like”. I’ve reread it three times now trying to figure out what it is, because your posts are generally “inspiring”. What’s with this one? I even left it overnight to let it sink in, thinking maybe then I’ll get it; I’d understand what and why I’m “unsettled”. And that worked.

    I’m disturbed by the post not because I don’t like needles (which I don’t) but because the example you used highlights so well the irrational logic that holds me back from attempting things I might like.

    I’m unsettled because it reminds me of regrets I have of not trying things. I attest to your last statement: “What we regret is not trying.” But despite “knowing” that truth, fear still keeps me from trying some new things.

    That is what’s most unsettling: despite my knowledge of what’s a better story, I’m still too often ruled by fear: fear of the unknown coupled with the comfort of the known. It is more comfortable to stay where I am, than to step into & thru the fear.

    It’s more comfortable for you and you wife to stay in your dream home with just your biological kids. But God bless you, you both took the courage to step into the unknown. You’re living an example to us, your readers; and we are better off for it

  2. Just popping in to inform you of my presence again. Great post. 😉

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